WHEN Shaun Williamson landed a part in Elvis Presly-inspired musical Love Me Tender, he couldn’t believe his luck.
“I’m a massive fan,” says the former EastEnders star. “At the first day of rehearsals they couldn’t believe it because I knew every word of every song – and some of them aren’t the famous ones.
“It’s great because if you’re in a long run of a musical and you don’t like the songs, it must be hard work, but I love doing this.”
Shaun sings Don’t Be Cruel – ‘which is fantastic’ – among other Elvis hits and joins the rest of the cast in songs like One Night, Heartbreak Hotel and Burning Love.
Love Me Tender is on a national tour before heading for the West End and Shaun admits: “The biggest problem we had at the start was that people didn’t know about it.
“It’s not about Elvis, it’s a feel-good musical with Elvis songs in it, in the same way as Mamma Mia is a feel-good musical with Abba songs in it.”
It’s set in 1950s small-town America where nothing much happens until a guy called Chad rides in on his motorcycle wearing a black leather jacket…
Shaun makes it clear that he is playing widower Jim – not the hunky Chad.
“A friend said ‘What’s your part?’ and I said ‘Elvis’ bird’s dad’…yeah, I play dads these days,” he laughs.
But he does get to sing duets with ’80s pop star Mica Paris, who plays Sylvia, the owner of the town’s dive bar.
“I’m in heaven,” he says. “I love singing but I’ve never ever had the chance to show off my voice – probably because I’m a short, fat, balding late middle-aged guy.”
He does front his own soul band, The Jack Oliver Band, given the chance, and says singing was his first job in showbiz – as a
Pontins bluecoat on the Isle of Wight.
“I had to entertain kids, dance with lonely widows, the lot,” he recalls. “I left school at 16 and became a postman and then joined the navy.
“I wanted to be a helicopter pilot but they found out I was colour blind and said go and work in an office. I left and became a Pontins bluecoat.”
Shaun found fame as the hapless Barry Evans in BBC soap EastEnders and now thinks it was a mixed blessing.
“I wouldn’t swap it for the world, but it hasn’t helped with getting work in things like big dramas,” he says. “It hasn’t done me any favours with getting roles in a Chekhov or Shakespeare, but then I’ve never been short of work and I really like what I’m doing now. I’d like to do what I’m doing but with some serious drama thrown in.”
Shaun’s career has definitely been varied. He followed his stint in Albert Square by appearing as a kind of woeful version of himself in the Ricky Gervais comedy Extras.
“Ricky phoned me and obviously I said I’d love to work with him,” he says.
“When I saw that people like Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller and Samuel L Jackson were going to be in it, I thought what’s not to like? I really enjoyed it.”
He has also toured in a theatre version of TV comedy Porridge and says: “You have to get your head round the fact that you are never going to be better than Ronnie Barker, or even come close.
“But the show was great for people who love Porridge and wanted to see it on stage.”
Shaun also won a celebrity version of Stars In Their Eyes as Meatloaf (‘I was picked because I was the same size as him rather than sounding like him’), appeared on the quiz show Eggheads and was part of the showbiz team that ‘took £64,000 off the Beast’on ITV’ s The Chase.
For now though, Shaun is concentrating on Love Me Tender and will appear in the musical at the New Victoria Theatre, from Monday, September 7 until Saturday, September 12.